INTRODUCTION OF H.R. 4658, SERVICEMEMBERS LEGAL PROTECTION ACT OF 2004 -- (Extensions of Remarks - June 24, 2004)
HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH
OF NEW JERSEY
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 23, 2004
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce H.R. 4658, the Servicemembers Legal Protection Act of 2004, legislation to further strengthen the legal and financial rights of military servicemembers, particularly those called up to active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and other duty stations around the world. This legislation would amend a prior law I sponsored, that President Bush signed last year, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Public Law 108-189.
Mr. Speaker, this morning I chaired a hearing of the Veterans' Affairs Committee to examine how well the federal statutes protecting our servicemembers rights were being enforced. Testifying before the Committee were several servicemembers and family members with personal experiences in which their rights were not properly protected under existing laws.
One witness, Ms. Tammy Kimmel whose husband served in the Army at Fort Hood in Texas, told the Committee that when her husband was ordered to a new duty location, her landlord refused to release her from their joint housing lease as required by law. The landlord claimed that the law required the servicemember to be released, but not the spouse.
The legislation I am introducing today would help prevent such misinterpretations as well as strengthen and expand several existing legal and financial protections.
Mr. Speaker, with more than 150,000 Guard and reserve members activated in the continuing war on terrorism, we must ensure that the laws protecting their rights are fully and faithfully executed and enforced. Congress approved the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act last year precisely because of perceived ambiguities and weaknesses in longstanding federal statutes covering military personnel called to active duty or redeployed to new duty locations.
Regrettably, despite sixty years of federal case law, culminating with the passage last year of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, there are still some individuals, businesses, and organizations who cynically refuse to provide all the reliefs required by statute.
We will neither tolerate outright violations nor attempts to distort the clear purposes of the laws Congress has enacted. The evidence from today's hearing is overwhelming and the intention of the law is clear. Those men and women who put their lives on hold and on the line must not suffer economic or legal harm that results from their military service. This Committee and this Congress will continue to do all that can be done to protect the legal and financial rights of all of our servicemembers, whether they are active duty, reserve or Guard.
As introduced, H.R. 4658, the Servicemembers Legal Protection Act, would:
Strengthen the lease termination protections for dependants of servicemembers relocating per military orders;
Expand the definition of court and administrative judgments and rulings covered by the law:
Require that waivers of their rights by servicemembers must be duly executed in separate, clearly written documents:
Extend to plaintiffs the same relief granted to defendants in civil court proceedings:
Extend the housing and automobile lease termination relief to servicemembers relocated from states or territories outside the contiguous United States (e.g., Hawaii, Alaska):
Strengthen the leases termination provisions for servicemembers affected by individual deployments:
Prevent double taxation of servicemembers due to differences in state and local excise, use, or other similar taxes.
Mr. Speaker, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act that passed last year both restated and expanded the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act first approved in 1940. This federal statute is designed to help ensure that U.S. military personnel are not disadvantaged when they have been called to active duty and are therefore unable to be present at legal proceedings.
Among the most important protections added by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act last year were automatic 90-day stays for civil and administrative proceedings, protections for servicemembers and their families from housing evictions, the right of servicemembers and their spouses to terminate housing and automobile leases, and protection from repossessions of automobiles.
Enactment of the legislation I am introducing today, H.R. 4658, the Servicemembers Legal Protection Act, would provide an additional level of support for all of the brave men and women defending our nation and our freedom around the world. I urge my colleagues to look at this important legislation and lend their support to protecting the legal and financial rights of all of our servicemen and women.